The fifth annual Madison World Music Festival, brought to you by the Wisconsin Union Theater, is on tap this weekend and next at various venues (Memorial Union Terrace, the Willy Street Fair, the Annex and more). This year's fest is free as always and bigger than ever, with more events spread out at more sites over more days than you'll remember from previous years.
"World music," in case you've missed out, hasn't been synonymous with Third World folk for years. Traditional musicians still inhabit the far corners, but the forces of globalization know no pause. Younger musicians, who make up the bulk of the touring acts these days, revitalize ethnic sounds with electric instruments, jazz constructions or foreign beats. The salient characteristic of most 21st-century world music is its rootsy indie-ness.
I'm psyched for this year's ride, though bigger doesn't guarantee better. Past fests, centralized on campus over a single long weekend, were crash courses in cultural survival with hordes of dedicated attendees rushing to catch every act. Given this year's expansion, most folks will probably pick and choose instead.
There's something for everyone on this bill. Scope out the sublime lineup of world-citizen chanteuses, starting with Chiwoniso, daughter of Zimbabwe, Seattle and an ethnomusicologist father. If her just-released sophomore album, Rebel Woman, is any clue, her multicultural, mbira-based Afropop (Willy Street Fair, Sept. 20, 1:45 p.m.) might be the fest's best surprise. Also in the running: modern-day diva of Persian song Mamak Khadem (Terrace, Sept. 12, 7:30 p.m.), and Gaida Hannawi, from the crossroads of Damascus and New York (Terrace, Sept. 19, 5:30 p.m.).
There's straight-ahead Russian post-folk from Reelroad (Terrace, Sept. 13, 7:45 p.m.); Zazhil's contemporary son mexicano from the Distrito Federal, lightly fused with gringo genres (Willy Street Fair, Sept. 20, 3:45 p.m.); and Kabile's Bulgarian wedding tunes (Terrace, Sept. 18, 8:30 p.m.). Try Baba Zula for traditionally instrumented dub/rock from Istanbul (Terrace, Sept. 19, 9:30 p.m.), or Brooklyn-based Nation Beat's Brazilian maracatu/country-western blend - it's an oddball sound, but it rocks (Terrace, Sept. 12, 9:30 p.m.). For the festival finale, Germany's 17 Hippies plays rip-snortin' global folk (Willy Street Fair, Sept. 20, 7:45 p.m.).
Even underground Europop finds space in world music's titanic tent this year. A wacky Hungarian band called Little Cow, plus underground rockers Plastic People of the Universe - the Czech Republc's Mothers of Invention - play the Terrace on Saturday, Sept. 13 (4:30 and 6:30 p.m., respectively). They seem out of sync with the rootsier acts that rule the event's main arena, but they'll be fine when they also play a festival-sponsored triple bill at the Annex with Mad City's own Weapons of Mass DeFunktion (Sept. 14, 6:30 p.m.).
Another strange choice, for a festival that's traditionally featured bands almost unknown in the States, is a big fish - two-time Grammy nominee Orlando "Maraca" Valle, from Cuba via France, on a CD-release tour for his brand-spanking-new album, Lo Que Quiero es Fiesta (Terrace, Sept. 13, 10 p.m.). Don't get me wrong. If I could only catch two acts, the "liberator of the flute" and his all-star salsa/timba/jazz outfit New Collective would be one of them. I'm a sucker for saoco.
My other pick would be Etran Finatawa - "Stars of Tradition" - from Niger, West Africa (Willy Street Fair, Sept. 20, 5:45 p.m.). This sextet, the '08 festival's bright light of cultural resistance, boasts players from two nomadic tribes, both long-ago migrants from North Africa, the Tuareg and the Wodaabe. Today they suffer intertribal flare-ups over vanishing resources on lands devastated by global warming and transnational uranium mining. Together, they fuse Tuareg electric guitar-based postcolonial resistance songs with polyphonic Wodaabe call-and-response chants. It's soulful Sahel blues with a crystal-clear message: Make music, not war.
Madison World Music Festival
Various venues, Sept. 12-21. See uniontheater.wisc.edu/worldmusicfest for complete lineup.